Top Lift: 2450m
Ski area: 100km of pistes
Adult lift pass: 175€ for six days
In a Nutshell
Compact, traditional and very friendly, Saint-Lary Soulan is a firm favourite (in other seasons, too) with French and Spanish families. Something of a well-kept secret among Brits, but when the snow’s good so is the skiing – much better than it looks on the piste map.
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
If you’ve ever wondered why anyone could possibly want to ski anywhere in France apart from the mighty Alps, then you’ve obviously yet to discover Saint-Lary and other resorts in the Pyrenees. Saint-Lary is not one but three villages: Saint-Lary Village (830m) which is the authentic Pyrenean village at the foot of the slopes. Saint-Lary 1700 (or Pla d’Adet) and Saint-Lary 1900 (Espiaube) both have wonderful views and also provide bases for skiing.
Countless French skiers laid their first faltering tracks here, returned each season with parents (and grandparents), grew up, settled down and had children of their own. And they continue to return, so the cycle starts all over again. For them it’s a home-from-home.
So it’s a fun place to be, and very French, apart from Spanish visitors from across the border, lured by the generally better snow conditions on the French side. So far, though you won’t hear too many British voices, you do encounter ex-pats who have settled nearby to enjoy the Pyrenean good life.
A sleeping giant
The infrastructure is improving, too. Saint-Lary in recent years opened a smart new gondola, which vastly improved access from the old Saint-Lary Village (at 830m) to the ski area (above 1600m), and lots of snow-cannons have gone in to help maintain cover in dry seasons. The terrain park is a good’un too – it even has its own website.
So, is it right for you? The French Pyrenees are much calmer than Andorra (both day and night) and significantly cheaper than Alpine resorts. The food is good, too. Although there isn’t a lot of choice up the mountain, the resort itself has over 30 restaurants. The only cause for concern here is the erratic, all-or-nothing pattern of snow-cover, which can produce the odd disappointing season.
On the other hand, there are times when the snow here can be amazing, while things are looking less healthy over in the Alps. And if altitude is a real concern then just 20 minutes up the valley lies Piau-Engaly, which offers varied terrain between 1860m and 2600m (the highest in the Pyrenees) and a snow guarantee.
So you could base yourself in Saint-Lary and split your days between both ski areas. So far, though, there’s no combined lift-pass, so those seeking mileage and variety might find that combining Cauterets and Luz-Ardiden might be a better option. But when the snow lies deep and soft, Saint-Lary delivers enjoyable and unpressured skiing and boarding in fantastic surroundings.
Families are made very welcome
The resort is one of the Famille Plus Montagne destinations, which means it provides above-average facilities for families. Consequently, this is also the place to come if apres-ski is not your priority.